A Prairie Walk

We took our new fall intern for a nature walk the other day. We walked through the woods up to the prairie. Our prairie is planted on part of the preserve not open to the public, although we occationally take off-trail walks to these areas. While there are not a whole lot of forbs (plants that are not grasses) up there, there is enought stuff to keep it interesting.

Dogbane thrives up there and I found a couple of beautiful dogbane beetles. They are smooth and shining and metallic red and green. You can view a photo of one here: http://bugguide.net/node/view/88126. There is also quite a bit of common milkweed growing, although mainly on one end. I was hoping to find a monarch cat or two, but instead found several milkweed tussock moth cats.

These guys tend to be gregarious especially in their early instars. They can be quite numerous too, defoliating stands of milkweed. I brought a couple down to the public side of the preserve. There is a nice common milkweed at the top of the driveway. Look for them as you come in.

Also very common on the milkweed are milkweed bugs. Did you know that all bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs? True Bugs are a group of insects that have piercing sucking mouth parts. Many of them have an “x” shape on their back because of the way the wings fold together. Take a look at these guys. You can also see one that is not mature yet. Its wings are not fully formed.

There are always lots of spiders hanging around. Here is a beautiful yellow crab spider. He (she?) is quite conspicuous on his green leaf, but what if he (she?) were on a yellow flower?

Speaking of yellow flowers, there is a pretty sunflower (Helianthus) that of course attracts a plethora of interesting critters.

Can you find the critter in this photo?

Look carefully! There is a small caterpillar resting vertically along the top center petal. This should be a Common Pug, a very common cat on composite flowers, often having just the right color to camouflage itself.

This flower has a crab spider and two beetles on it. I was really hoping to see the spider eat one of the beetles but it wasn’t interested. The beetles had started out a little higher up on the flower and walked towards the spider. They got close enough that the spider was touching them with a couple of legs, but nothing happened. Lucky beetles.

This one had a beetle, crab spider, and a native bee on it, all at the same time! Sorry the bee isn’t in focus, I could either get the bee clearly or the other critters, not all of them. A different flower had a well camouflaged assassin bug on it, but I just could get  decent photo of it. But you can see how many animals take advantage of these flowers. Some are eating the flower, some are getting pollen and nectar, and others are lying in wait for those animals just mentioned. This would have been a great place to see a praying mantis.

The dominant grass in the prairie is big bluestem. It’s flowering right now and looks really pretty. The other name for this grass is turkeyfoot. Can you see why?

It was a nice day for a walk and we saw a lot of cool stuff!

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